Spatial Analyses of Social Policies and of a Social Safety Net

Vicky Albert, University of Nevada, Las Vegas
Jaewon Lim, University of Nevada, Las Vegas


During the 2008 Great Recession, many families with children relied on cash assistance from Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) program. The present study applied Exploratory Spatial Data Analysis (ESDA) tools to analyze geographically varying spatial clusters of states’ unemployment rates, TANF caseload growth rates, TANF policy choices such as benefit levels and TANF responsiveness rates to the recession. We analyzed 45 contiguous states and Washington D.C. A standardized TANF responsiveness index was developed to compare states’ TANF growth rates relative to their labor market conditions. The western states were found to be very responsive to the recession with ratios greater than one. In contrast, Texas and Arizona, with ratios below 1, were unresponsive to the recession. The presence of strong spatial clusters in unemployment rate and TANF maximum aid were found. In the case of maximum aid, there was a strong presence of Low-Low spatial clusters in Southern States and High-High clusters in Northeastern States. The findings suggest that several neighboring states in the northeast and some in the south had similar levels of financial commitment during the 2008 recessionary as the ones found by earlier research conducted during non-recessionary periods. The findings have implications for future federal actions and for state level collaboration.